Fiddler Laurie Lewis is a seasoned musician that has gathered equally adroit picking companions for her Right Hands band on this latest recording. Long-time partner Tom Rozum is alongside on mandolin, as is award-winning bass player Todd Phillips, who has worked with lewis for the last decade. Guitarist Scott Huffman and banjo player Craig Smith come by way of North Carolina, where they used to pick together. A natural spontaneity within this ensemble is evident from the very first cut.
Lewis shows incredible prowess and maturity not only on the fiddle, but in her exceptional writing. The album opens with an original bluegrass number, "our Eyes," in which Lewis' vocal delivery mixes pizza with coy theatrics. It's a killer.
She exposes the very private side as well as astounding emotional depth in her composition "A Hand to Hold." Guest Linda Ronstadt steps in to harmonize with Lewis' expressive voice, as she and Rozum also do on the solemn "Rank Stranger."
Huffman possesses one of those wonderful Southern drawl-inflected voices, the kind that drips with down-home warmth. He contributes an original, "Hard Luck in Heaven," in which he queries the mighty powers-that-be if his luck will be any different up above. Fellow Tar Heel Smith jumps right into the mix, driving the spotlight at all the right moments throughout the CD.
A real gem is "Mourning Cloak," a murder ballad about love, betrayal, and a butterfly, hence its title. Another treasure is the seldom heard "Before the Sun Goes Down," from the Jimmy Martin catalog. As spirited as the opening track is, serene and sad is the final, sensitive rendition fo John Hartford's "Goodbye Waltz."
Surpassing her previous outstanding recordings, Lewis has reached a new pinnacle. The Golden West represents some of the best work ever from Laurie lewis. Highly recommended.
"Both understated and striking music, played and sung with devotion and urgency"
Laurie Lewis, a key figure in helping female musicians break into the traditionally male-dominated bluegrass genre, is an exceptional, versatile fiddler and a singer blessed with a smooth, musical voice. Despite her long identification with bluegrass music, Lewis also embraces many other forms of acoustic music, including folk, blues, country, Cajun, Tex-Mex, you name it, in her repertoire. For this latest album with her five-piece band the Right Hands, she keeps t a more basic, traditional bluegrass, mountain style. It is very much a band-album, with long associate Tom Rozum (mandolin, mandola) sharing lead vocals, guitarist Scott Huffman contributing to the vocals and also writing Hard Luck in Heaven. The band is completed by banjoist Craig Smith and string bass player Todd Phillips. Together they provide a driving sound when required- Bill Monroe's title tune- or slower, emotional picking as on John Hartford's Goodbye Waltz.
The charm and beauty of both folk and bluegrass is at the forefront of every song. There's a neat rendition of Billy Joe Shaver's Live Forever- a song that's becoming something of a bluegrass staple- with Scott providing the lead vocal and Laurie and Tom joining in on harmonies. Linda Ronstadt adds harmony vocals to the well-known Rank Stranger and Laurie's self-penned A Hand to Hold. The latter is a lengthy six-minute opus, but the sheer beauty of the vocalising, sensitive accompaniment and evocative lyrics make for a stunning track. Showing the diversity of this talented band, they dig way in time for Jimmie Rodger's 99 Year Blues, and add the more recent Kate Campbell-penned Bury Me in Bluegrass and Jimmie Dale Gilmore's River Under the Road. It all adds up t exceptional rootsy music that should appeal t old timey and bluegrass fans alike.
Your Eyes / Burley Coulter s Song For Kate Helen Branch / 99 Year Blues / Before The Sun Goes Down / Live Forever /Rank Stranger /Bury Me In Bluegrass / The Golden West / A Hand To Hold / River Under The Road / Hard Luck In Heaven / The Mourning Clock / Goodbye Waltz
Laurie Lewis, a consummate musician, talented song writer and instantly recognisable vocalist has won numerous awards in the field of bluegrass music. She has been instrumental in bringing the style of music which originated in Kentucky to the West Coast, where she has been based for much of her life, and for the past thirty years or so she has been most insistent that those with whom she tours and records are as professional as she is herself. In short, Ms Lewis is a perfectionist and expects nothing but the best from those she works with. Well, The Right Hands, Tom Rozum, mandolinist, who has been with Laurie for the past twenty years and has recorded three duet albums with her, Todd Phillips, bassist, who joined Laurie in 1996 and produced the Grammy Award winning True Life Blues: a Tribute to Bill Monroe , which included a contribution from her, Craig Smith, an outstanding guitarist who first worked with Laurie in the mid-70 s before relocating to North Carolina, and Scott Huffman, a notable banjoist who has worked with Smith for some twenty five years, collectively live up to Laurie s expectations. This latest album came about following a short Alaskan tour when the five of them secreted themselves for three days in a Washington recording studio. They each brought some of their favourite songs to the table and whenever there was unanimous agreement they would work out an arrangement and set about recording it, so the choice of material was very much a collective agreement.
There is the sort of fluidity in musicianship which comes when a group of highly proficient musicians who understand each other so well get together for a short, concentrated span, so absolutely no criticism in this department. Apart from Laurie, both Tom Rozum and Scott Huffman are extremely good vocalists in their own right and so lead vocals are shared between them. Laurie sounds particularly sassy on the opening track, Your Eyes , one of her original songs; a delightful delivery and rather different in style to what one has generally come to expect of her. She leads off again on Before The Sun Goes Down , a Jimmy Martin composition, and is joined by Linda Ronstadt on Albert Brumley s Rank Stranger and another of Laurie s originals, the beautiful A Hand To Hold which must surely be the highlight of the entire album. Laurie also takes lead vocal on The Mourning Clock and duets with Tom Rozum on the closing track, the plaintive Goodbye Waltz , written by the late John Hartford.
Scott stands centre stage for Burley Coulter s Song For Kate Helen Branch , Billy Joe Shaver s Live Forever and the wry Hard Luck In Heaven , one of his own compositions, while Tom Rozum leads on the old Jimmie Rodgers classic 99 Year Blues , Bury Me In Bluegrass , written by Kate Campbell, and the Ana Egge/Jimmie Dale Gilmore number River Under The Road . >From very early in life Laurie was totally smitten by Bill Monroe and it was largely through listening to his music that she immersed herself in traditional bluegrass, so it is only fitting that the title track, The Golden West , the only instrumental, was written by Monroe.
From start to finish one can get a sense of the pure enjoyment which these five artists themselves derived in recording this album. Great musicianship, strong vocals, excellent two and three part harmonies and a democratically selected programme of songs upon which all five agreed. Maybe not the standard way in which an album is recorded these days, but this time it all works perfectly.
Laurie Lewis has always been good at adding her own twist to the familiar. This knack is immediately apparent in the opening "Your Eyes" in which we hear bluegrass fiddle and banjo rolls underneath phases such as "Svengali" and "luminous orbs."
Lewis shares lead singing with longtime collaborator Tom Rozum and guitarist Scott Huffman. The three voices combine with particularly good effect on through Kate Campbell's "Bury Me in Bluegrass." Linda Ronstadt lends her voice to the wistful "A Hand to Hold" and brings a credible edge to the tenor part on "Rank Stranger."
Rounding out the "Right Hands" are Todd Phillips and Craig Smith. Phillips' bass playing provides a steady anchor. Smith has a distinctively sparse banjo style, which serves the band well. While much of the instrumentation is understated, the ensemble cooks on the Bill Monroe instrumental "The Golden West" and has fun with the bouncy "Before the Sun Goes Down."
From the raucous "99 Year Blues" to Rozum and Lewis' graceful duet of John Hartford's Goodbye Waltz, the project provides a pleasant mix of originals, classics and contemporary covers.
The gently bluegrass version of Billy Joe Shaver's "Live Forever" sung by Scott Huffman is worth the purchase price of The Golden West by Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands.
Lewis is a two-time female vocalist of the year in the International Bluegrass Music Association and a fiddle player raised in the San Francisco folk scene when the 1960s reluctantly turned into the 1970s. Befitting the bluegrass tradition, she shares vocals on this CD with bandmates Tom Rozum (mandolin and mandola) and Huffman (guitar). Craig Smith (banjo) and Todd Phillips (string bass) round out the band.
Huffman's version of the Shaver song is a simple, masterful interpretation that is both true to and expands upon the original with banjo, fiddle, harmony vocals and his own North Carolina twang.
Mixing in a handful of originals during a three-day recording session in Washington state, the "newgrass" band, on 13 songs, also shares its takes on Jimmy Martin's "Before The Sun Goes Down," Albert Brumley's "Rank Stranger" (made famous by the Stanley Brothers), John Hartford's "Goodbye Waltz", Ana Egge, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Sarah Brown's "River Under The Road" and the title song by Bill Monroe. They also turn Wendell Berry's poem "Burley Coulter's Song for Kate Helen Branch" into a fine remembrance of a country dance.
Wow... what a great record -- one of the best bluegrass albums of '06! If you like plain, simple, and sincerely twangy truegrass, filtered through a West Coast/Northern California sensibility which keeps things real and rootsy, but doesn't simply go through the motions of genuflecting at the temple of rigid, "high lonesome" traditionalism, well, then this is an album you'll want to check out. Lewis and longtime cohort Tom Rozum lead this laid-back, no-nonsense quintet, playing a nice mix of original songs and well-chosen covers. Guitarist Scott Huffman contributes one song (and fine harmony vocals on others) while Lewis adds two more; the remainder of the album embraces music by Albert Brumley, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, John Hartford, Jimmy Martin, Bill Monroe, Jimmie Rodgers and Billy Joe Shaver... I mean, geez... how could you go wrong The answer is, you can't. This is a mighty fine set, from start to finish, filled with one heartfelt, effective performance after another. Highly recommended!
Nobody in bluegrass fiddles or sings with more feeling than Berkeley's own Laurie Lewis. A founder of the all-women old-timey band Good Ol' Persons a good three decades ago, she's now the sole woman in her amazing quintet the Right Hands. They celebrate the release of their first CD, The Golden West (on Oakland's rock-solid HighTone label), this week at the Freight & Salvage. Their repertoire mixes Lewis' rural California take on life and love with other songs by Billy Joe Shaver and John Hartford. On the CD, Lewis' occasional stage partner Linda Ronstadt duets on a couple of songs. Thursday, August 31. 8 p.m., $18.50/$19.50 door. TheFreight.org (Larry Kelp)
IT'S ALWAYS a party when Berkeley's own Laurie Lewis plays a hometown show at the Freight and Salvage Coffee House. When she hits the stage tonight, however, it will be a party with a purpose.
Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands are celebrating the release of their brand-new CD, "The Golden West," at this show. The East Bay native's album is being put out by, appropriately enough, Oakland's own HighTone label.
Fans will surely get a heaping dose of songs from "The Golden West," but they'll also get many of the classic tunes that have made this talented veteran such a house favorite at the Freight and Salvage over the years.
But it's not just the fine folks at the Freight and Salvage who like Lewis. The vocalist-fiddler has garnered her share of national recognition during her career, including a Grammy and two International Bluegrass Music Association Awards for Female Vocalist of the Year.
Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets are $18.50. The Freight and Salvage is at 1111 Addison St., Berkeley. Call (510) 548-1761 or visit http://www.thefreight.org.
Start the weekend off right by catching Laurie Lewis tonight at the Freight. Lewis, the East Bay's answer to Alison Krauss (she can fiddle and sing like a dream) is celebrating a new CD, "The Golden West," with a few of her favorite bandmates and collaborates. A sure-fire fun time. Details: 8 p.m., 1111 Addison St., Berkeley, $18.50 advance/$19.50 door, 510-548-1761, www.thefreight.org.
Basically a bluegrass album named after a Bill Monroe instrumental, Lewis' latest brings a looser, more celebratory sensibility to the old mountain sound. Call it California coolgrass, if you must, but don't mistake it for laid-back. Trading vocals with mandolinist (and longtime duet partner) Tom Rozum and guitarist Scott Huffman, fiddler Lewis breathes crisp air into standards like Jimmy Martin's "Before the Sun Goes Down" and Billy Joe Shaver's "Live Forever." Linda Ronstadt lends harmonies on a couple of tracks, too. In stores Tuesday (Lewis appears tonight at McCabe's in Santa Monica).
Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands, "The Golden West" (HighTone) - The slight raggedness in the singing suggests the songs were recorded in one or two takes, or the members are showing their age. But the performances, such as "99 Year Blues," "Bury Me in Bluegrass," "Rank Strangers" and "Live Forever," sound natural and lived-in. Grade: A-
Into the 1970s, bluegrass music was a man's world, following the pattern established by Bill Monroe in 1945. Women have changed the formula since then, bringing a new perspective and a softer touch to the high lonesome sound.
Laurie Lewis, a Grammy-winning singer, songwriter and fiddler, has made some of the most important contributions of the past 20 years. Growing up in California's Bay Area, she was free from the rules that define bluegrass music in the Southeast, and she incorporates folk, country and blues into songs that are graceful, witty, warm.
With Lewis fronting her superb quartet, the Right Hands, "The Golden West" (Hightone) has it all. Lewis gives a woman's slant to the swagger of Jimmy Martin's "Before the Sun Goes Down," and in her own "A Hand to Hold," she turns to nature to reflect on bittersweet memories of love grown cold.
Lewis is a generous bandleader. Thomasville native Scott Huffman (guitar) sings lead on three songs, including Billy Joe Shaver's "Live Forever" and his own "Hard Luck in Heaven." Tom Rozum (mandolin) is out front on Jimmie Rodgers' "99 Year Blues" and Kate Campbell's "Bury Me in Bluegrass." And Winston-Salem's Craig Smith applies his banjo wizardry throughout.
The male voices provide robust counterpoint to Lewis' sprightly soprano on songs as diverse as the Stanley Brothers' "Rank Stranger" (with Linda Ronstadt singing harmony), the contemporary old-time ballad "The Mourning Cloak," Lewis' cleverly upbeat "Your Eyes" and John Hartford's "Goodbye Waltz," performed as an album-closing duet with Rozum.
Laurie Lewis takes the title of her latest release (The Golden West) from a Bill Monroe tune. While it is an acknowledgment of the father of Bluegrass, it's also a nod to the Western style of Bluegrass that Lewis has worked in for three decades now. Hard to believe it has been that long. Lewis has a gift for fresh arrangements and quality songwriting that help move the genre forward in all directions. She also has a respect for, and knowledge of, the tradition and a quality to her clear and flexible voice that makes her sound at once contemporary and timeless.
The Right Hands do their part in this, too. Lewis' longtime musical partner Tom Rozum plays mandolin, Craig Smith is on banjo, Scott Huffman handles guitar, Lewis is on fiddle, and Todd Phillips plays string bass. They trade leads, harmonies, and instrumental breaks on a baker's dozen of varied songs that they recorded in a three-day marathon at Sage Arts in Washington State. The camaraderie and the musical risk taking of those live sessions come through in the energy on the tracks.
In addition to the Monroe tune, the music includes three Lewis originals and one by Huffman, as well as Anna Egge and Jimmie Dale Gilmore's "River Under the Road," Kate and Ira Campbell's "Bury Me in Bluegrass," Jimmie Rogers' "99 Year Blues," and Jimmy Martin's "Before the Sun Goes Down." Linda Ronstadt adds backing vocals on the old-time hymn "Rank Stranger" and the Lewis original "A Hand to Hold."
Writer: Laurie Lewis; Producer: Laurie Lewis/The Right Hands; Publisher: none listed; Hightone (track) (www.laurielewis.com)
-I'm a Laurie Lewis fan from way back, so I always look forward to her collections. The new The Golden West CD leads off with this breezy ode to falling in love. As usual, her fiddling is sparkling and her singing is packed with personality. For more of the former, check out the title tune instrumental, written by Bill Monroe.
September 29, 2006
The charm and beauty of both folk and bluegrass is at the forefront on every song from The Golden West (Hightone), a glorious 13-song set from Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands (which they also produced). Whether they re covering bluegrass and country classics like Bill Monroe s title track and Billy Joe Shaver s Live Forever or doing originals such as Lewis Your Eyes and A Hand To Hold, each song is performed in an elegant and poignant manner, with Lewis, mandolin and mandola player Tom Rozum or guitarist Scott Huffman dividing lead and harmony vocal duties. Special guest Linda Rondstadt adds soothing backgrounds to Rank Stranger and A Hand To Hold, while Laurie Lewis is the lone voice heard on The Mourning Cloak, and Huffman s best singing comes on Live Forever and Hard Luck in Heaven. This is both understated and striking music, played and sung with devotion and urgency.
LAURIE LEWIS SAYS, "There's a really good case to be made that bluegrass is simply a singer-songwriter and a string band." When she's the singer-songwriter, as on "Your Eyes," the opener to "The Golden West," Lewis showcases the surprises in that approach. Against a traditional, if mellow, string band backdrop, she delivers tartly modern lyrics, telling someone to "don your shades" because "you can't look at me the way you do and not expect me to fall for you." Ultimately, she ditches the rhyme scheme altogether to shake her head: "You're some kind of Svengali or somethin'."
Lewis and her latest band, the Right Hands, roam the range of bluegrass. They chase "Your Eyes" with "Burley Coulter's Song for Kate Helen Branch," an elegant piece that's suggestive of an English country dance with a slightly American swing. Lewis's masterful fiddling and nostalgic lyrics by poet Wendell Berry add to its elegance, proving, if there are still doubts afoot, that a distinctive North Carolina twang like Scott Huffman's needn't be consigned to the corncrib.
This team can deliver the classics as well. "99 Year Blues," a Jimmie Rodgers yodeler, is carried by the strong tenor of Tom Rozum, whose "hee-hees" could as easily be rueful laughs as self-deprecating sobs. The sweetly mournful "Rank Stranger," associated with the Stanley Brothers, has Linda Ronstadt joining Rozum on soulful backing vocals. But the songs never lose their wry irreverence: On his "Hard Luck in Heaven," Huffman quips that when the angels hand out the instruments, his will probably be sharp. There's nothing here to shock anyone but the most dogmatic bluegrass purist, but there's plenty to provide a few steppingstones from other genres -- singer-songwriter, Anglo-Celtic folk and jam-band instrumental -- toward the mainstream.
So you got turned on to bluegrass music when the soundtrack to "O
Brother, Where Art Thou?" became a huge hit a few years ago. Outside
of Alison Krauss, little of the bluegrass was by anyone still alive –
or at least younger than, say, 75.
And so you're a little bummed to have discovered this incredible
music style that doesn't seem to have much of a future.
Disgruntled bluegrass fan, meet Laurie Lewis. Possessed of as
gorgeous a set of pipes as Ms. Krauss, perhaps a better fiddle player
and writer of even better songs – songs that will be played as long
as there are bluegrass bands to play them – Lewis is the balm to calm
any heart excited by bluegrass and needing a fix.
Her new album is full of the kind of virtuosic playing and great
songs we've come to expect from Lewis. Longtime musical partner Tom
Rozum has a nice tenor voice, not so far off from Ricky Skaggs' – and
he plays as mean a mandolin as Skaggs, too. Guitarist Scott Huffman
provides yet a third sterling voice (a smooth baritone, in this
case), while banjoist Craig Smith and bass player Todd Phillips round
out the band's remarkable sound.
It is a sound that is completely steeped in tradition, yet one that
upholds that tradition through aggressive, in-your-face playing. This
is no passive museum piece, but living, breathing, vital bluegrass –
beholden to and respectful of the past, but grounded in the here and
now, and reaching for the future.
~ Jim Trageser, North County Times, Jan. 4, 2007
LAURIE LEWIS & THE RIGHT HANDS
The Golden West
While Laurie Lewis, for three decades a stellar bluegrass fiddler and
singer, is certainly this CD’s star attraction, The Golden West is
very much a total band effort. Each of the five musicians contributes
essential elements to the overall sound and Lewis hands off half the
lead vocals to the more-than-capable voices of mandolinist Tom Rozum
and guitarist Scott Huffman. Lewis sounds great singing Your Eyes, an
up-tempo number with an irresistible vocal and instrumental
arrangement, and the gorgeous A Hand to Hold, one of two songs
featuring Linda Ronstadt’s harmonies. Rozum and Huffman respectively
shine on Jimmie Rodgers’s 99 Year Blues and Billy Joe Shaver’s Live
Forever. The Golden West is as satisfying a bluegrass album as was
released in 2006. ****
~Mike Regenstreif, Montreal Gazette, Jan. 4, 2007